Advocates Applaud NYC Department of Records Publications Portal

March 26, 2015

Today, the New York City Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) launched its new portal for government records. City agencies are required to provide copies of their reports and official documents to DORIS. Until recently, most agencies were providing these reports on paper. Now, every agency provides their records to DORIS in a digital format, and DORIS in turn provides these records to New Yorkers. From Mayor de Blasio’s press release:

The portal, currently available in beta version, is a consolidated online hub that stores thousands of reports issued by City agencies—for which the records department serves as the historical repository. This portal is required by the City Charter and makes current government reports available to the public in one centralized location.

There are roughly 12,000 documents on the portal now, with another 7,000 in the upload queue.

We like the portal for two reasons. First, this one-stop web site will make it easier to find narrative reports produced by NYC agencies. This is an essential complement to the Open Data Portal, which only publishes tabular data (i.e. tables, databases, and GIS data).

Second, the development process for the Government Publications Portal is innovative, and the sort of thing we want to see more of. NYC used its own technologists (not consultants) to create this site using open-source technology to avoid re-inventing the wheel. The site is being launched as a beta version, with the expectation that it will be continually improved in response to user feedback. The source code for the web site is publicly available on Github.

Poll: “Overwhelming” Number of New Yorkers Want State Emails Saved

March 23, 2015

Today, a Siena College poll of New York State found that most New Yorkers are aware of Governor Cuomo’s email policy, and Siena’s press release further notes that “by an overwhelming margin, 80-16 percent, voters say state emails should be retained significantly longer than 90 days, including more than three-quarters of voters from every region, party, gender, race, religion, age.” (Emphasis added)

New York State’s email deletion policy is out of step with best practices in the Federal government, in other states like North Carolina and Massachusetts, with good government advocates, and even with the New York State Archives’s own recommendations from 2010, which stated “Purging all emails after a defined time period is not an acceptable retention and disposition strategy.” Today, the New York Times reported on the poll, saying:

In Albany, the email policy has drawn loud criticism in recent weeks from government watchdog groups as well as some lawmakers, who have proposed legislation to stop the email purges. The policy has also reinforced Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s reputation for seeking to tightly control information, a defining trait of his administration.

In addition, the Times noted that good government groups were skeptical of Governor Cuomo’s insistence on subjecting the State Legislature to FOIL as a condition to his retention of emails.

Sunshine Week Request to Governor Cuomo to Stop Automatically Deleting State Emails

March 20, 2015

Roundup of Albany Ethics Reforms

March 19, 2015

The Albany Times-Union’s Rick Karlin and Matthew Hamilton have compiled a list of the various ethics proposals kicking around Albany. We’ve reprinted it below.

The ethics package outlined by the governor and Assembly speaker Wednesday incorporates just some of this year’s the ethics reform proposals. Here’s a look at what various lawmakers and groups are seeking:

Cuomo-Heastie plan

  • Requires detailed disclosure on sources of outside income including the naming of clients for payments about $5,000. Includes lawyers with some exceptions.
  • Verification required for per diem travel expenses. May involve a swipe card for lawmakers to document their whereabouts.
  • Constitutional amendment to go to voters which would strip wrongdoers of government pensions.
  • Limits on use of campaign funds. No country club membership, mortgage payments or other similar uses.
  • Mandatory disclosure of soft money, or independent expenditures which are not officially coordinated by candidates but which can support their platforms.

Senate Republicans

  • Bill by Senators Carl Marcellino and Pat Gallivan would mandate public listing of executive chamber and state agency officials pay and their expenses. The data is already kept by the comptroller but this would put it on a dedicated website.
  • Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
  • A complete ban on outside income for lawmakers, accompanied by a salary hike to at least $112,500 compared to the current $79,500 base pay.
  • A cap on reimbursements for legislative travel.
  • More equitable division of funding among legislators.
  • Giving legislators more individual power to move a proposal to a floor vote.
  • Increase terms of lawmakers from two years to four years.

Good-government groups

  • Make Limited Liability Corporations, or LLCs subject to the same political campaign contribution limits that apply to individuals and other types of corporations.
  • Keep all state agency and executive branch emails for seven years rather than purging non-critical ones after 90 days.
  • Grant more authority to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and breaking some of its ties to the executive branch.
  • Establish outside income limits similar to Congress, which limits income to 15 percent of a lawmaker’s salary.

Group Statement: Ethics Proposal by Governor and Speaker is an Improvement Over Status Quo

March 19, 2015

Good Government Groups See Agreement That Still Leaves Much Unfinished Reform on the Table

The ethics measures advanced by the Governor and Speaker are an improvement over the status quo – stronger and more complete disclosure of outside income, pension forfeiture risks for all public officials convicted of corruption, per diem reform with verification, and marginally tighter restrictions on personal use of campaign funds.

But partial solutions are no longer sufficient to fully address the growing problem of Albany corruption.

What is notable is what is not in the agreement – legislative compensation overhaul, desperately needed stronger ethics enforcement with greater public transparency of votes, comprehensive campaign finance reform with public financing that closes the LLC loophole and bans all personal use of campaign funds, strong disclosure and accountability for all executive and legislative discretionary lump sum funds, and a commitment to undertake the necessary examination and full-scale overhaul of our ethics and campaign finance laws.

This agreement while an improvement over the current state of affairs also shows how much still remains to be done in bringing about the sea change that is needed to finally transform the practice of ethics in Albany. The work must continue.

Contact:

Dick Dadey, Citizens Union
Larry Norden, Brennan Center for Justice
Susan Lerner, Common Cause New York
Sally Robinson, League of Women Voters of New York State
Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group
John Kaehny, Reinvent Albany